Saturday, July 07, 2012

A reality check on life

Thanks to the quiz show, 'Ningalkkum Agam Kodeeswaran', anchor and popular actor Suresh Gopi has got a picture of the state of Kerala society

By Shevlin Sebastian 


A grim-looking Suresh Gopi gets up from his chair and comes and stands next to contestant B. Sobha on the sets of 'Ningalkkum Agam Kodeeswaran' (NAK), the Malayalam version of ‘Kaun Banega Crorepati’. He stares at the studio audience and tells Sobha’s husband, “I am so sorry, Sunil Kumar.” There is a stunned look on Sunil’s face. His teenage daughter, Sreelakshmi, sitting beside him, is on the verge of tears. The onlookers are stunned into silence. 

But it is an emotional sleight of hand. Because, suddenly, Gopi turns to Sobha and shouts, “Congratulations! On this show, this is the first time I will be writing a cheque of Rs 25 lakhs.” As Sunil stands up, as if he has received an electric shock and claps enthusiastically, Gopi embraces Sobha. 

Asked what she will do with the prize money, Sobha says, “I want to buy a house, and clear all our debts. Then I want to give a good education to my two daughters.”

A few weeks later, Gopi says, “I cannot forget Sobha's story.” The contestant is working in the Kerala Coir Cooperative Society at Kadaikkavoor [32 kms from Thiruvananthapuram]. She had not been getting her salary for the past two years. 

Asked why she continued working, she said, “If I give up my job, I will become depressed. Even if the salary is not forthcoming, I am engaged throughout the day and after around 15 years, I will get a pension. If I leave the job I will not have a financial security during my old age.” After she won, Sobha said, “These are the wages that God has given me.” Says Gopi: “The message to the people is: If you are genuine and sincere and have hope, one day it will pay off.”

Ever since he became the anchor of NAK, in April, Gopi has gained a deeper understanding of Kerala society. “Most of the participants are going through a severe financial crisis,” he says. “Some have seriously thought of ending their lives and those of their families. If there are 50 episodes, in at least 40, the participants are people who are trying to come out of deep, dark wells. What does that indicate?  They want to have a big lump of relief.”

Gopi, on the other hand, thanks to talent and good fortune, does not need any relief. Nevertheless, listening and interacting with the contestants has had an impact on him. “I have a persistent ache in my chest for the past four months,” he says. “And I attribute it to all the tragic stories that I have heard so far. Every contestant has a different story to tell. The volume of sorrow that they are going through is unbelievable.”

The impact of the show has also been unbelievable. It has high TRP ratings and many are glued to it from Monday to Thursday. Lakhs of people have sent in their applications to take part. “The show has become a hit because it touches the hearts of the people,” he says.

For Gopi, this has been a step in a new direction after more than two decades as a leading film star. So, how is TV different from films? “In cinema, you are rarely able to portray your own character,” he says. “But on TV, I am the real person: not Suresh Gopi, the actor, but Suresh G. Nair, the human being.”

And in order to prepare for his role as an anchor, he went for a five-day workshop with quiz-master Siddharth Basu, whose company 'BIG Synergy' is producing the show. “The main aim was to make the show engaging, educative, dramatic, and inspiring,” says Basu. “I just wanted to familiarise Gopi with the mechanics of the show.”

Months later, Basu is very happy with Gopi's performance. “He does it with tremendous gusto and drama,” he says. “I admire his commitment, diligence, and zeal. Suresh Gopi has a singular style and personality. Thanks to him, the show has been a resounding success.”

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram) 

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